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CSOs Charge Cross River Government To Halt Incursion of Unidentified Chinese Nationals Into State Forest 

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Gov. Bassey Otu

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and strategic stakeholders have called on the Cross River state government to immediately halt all transactions and the incursion of an unidentified Chinese nationals into the state forest.

The CSOs and stakeholders at the one day meeting of October 30 in Calabar organized by Rainforest Resources Development Centre (RRDC), raised the alarm on dangers the Chinese pose if allowed to operate in the state without due process saying the identities of the uncertified Chinese foreign nationals have so far remain undisclosed.

They said that the diplomatic status of the Chinese Foreign Nationals has so far remained undisclosed. The security clearances and Immigration protocols of the Chinese as well as the Expatriate Quota approval issued to them by the Ministry of Interior to carry out business in Okuni Community, has not been disclosed.

That their certifications issued by the Corporate Affairs Commission – CAC have not been declared openly. And the nature of agreement expected to be in the form of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Chinese Foreign Nationals and the people of Effi Community has so far not been disclosed. 

They also observed that the forest concession agreements entered into with the Cross River State Forestry Commission and the Chinese Nationals over the extent of forest land that is located within the territory of Effi Community upon which the Chinese intend to conduct forestry operations has not been disclosed.

The environmental Impact Assessment report expected to be produced by the Chinese and approved by the Federal Ministry of Environment after due public scrutiny and review, before commencement of operations, has not been published as prescribed by law. 

In view of these, the CSOs and stakeholders in a 10 point resolution signed by the Executive Director of  RRDC, Comrade Odey Oyama, the Executive Director of     Panacea for Developmental and Infrastructural Challenges for Africa Initiative (PADIC-AFRICA), Dr. Martins Egot, Haruna Mohammed of Cross River National Park, Prof. Raphael Offiong of the University of Calabar, Emmanuel Owan of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and 22 others  said, “Government should therefore halt all transactions with the Chinese Nationals and suspend all negotiations purportedly carried out by the chiefs on behalf of the Effi community until full disclosures are made of the security clearances, Immigration protocols, the identities and mission of the Chinese who are presently conducting business in Okuni Community; copies of all agreements that the Effi Traditional Council proposed to enter into, or have already signed with the Chinese Foreign Nationals should be made available to the entire Effi community members for scrutiny. 

“The incursion of the uncertified Chinese Foreign Nationals into the Effi Community Forest, the Cross River South Forest Reserve should be officially communicated to the House of Assembly; in the hope that the Cross River State House of Assembly could step into the matter demanding all documents pertaining to the Chinese, the business interest of the Chinese in Okuni, the agreements signed between the Chinese and the Traditional Rulers Council of Effi Community and all other things pertaining to this shadowy transactions”.    

They also resolved that “the incursion of uncertified Chinese Foreign Nationals into the Effi Community Forest and the Cross River South Forest Reserve is a serious threat to the ecological integrity of the forest estate of Cross River State in the region.  It is observed that this matter is yet to be officially communicated to the Executive Arm of Cross River State government through the Forestry Commission.

“The incursion of the uncertified Chinese Foreign Nationals into the Effi Community Forest, the Cross River South Forest Reserve, and the Ukpon River Forest Reserve, with the attendant threat to the Oban Hills Division of the Cross River National Park, should be officially communicated to the Forestry Commission; in the hope that the Forestry Commission could step into the matter, properly analyse the situation by demanding and scrutinizing all documents pertaining to the Chinese, their business interest in Okuni, the agreements signed between the Chinese and the Traditional Rulers Council of Effi Community and all other things pertaining to this shadowy transactions”.    

They implored the state government “to study the rise of the tendencies of illegal exploitation of community resources by forest bandits.  The trend is that forest bandits operate in a cartel.  This cartel begins with the operations of their agents within the communities and thereafter with the support of other levels of illegal loggers.  At the end, the operations that started off as a simple internal operation, snowballs into larger operations that are actively mobilized and run by external syndicates, like it is presently occurring at Effi Community in Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River State of Nigeria”.   

As it is presently happening in Effi Community, they said “it has become evident that the incursion of foreign bandits and their cartels, upon the ecological heritage of communities, actually begins with the deliberate onslaught upon the councils of chiefs in the community where the resources are based.  Once the chiefs have been made to compromise, the work of the forest bandits and their internal collaborators become easy” as is the case in Effi Community.

“In order to avoid this mistake, it is advisable for the Community to cause to be created a body of advisers.  This body should be constituted with members of the community who would have held senior positions in government, the private sector and business, and had retired meritoriously from service…It is hereby declared that in all forest communities, the level of enlightenment of the people who are elevated to the position of chiefs in the community should be rigorously scrutinized. As it is presently constituted, majority of the chiefs are largely uneducated”. 

On the issue of lifting ban on logging, the groups argued that “it would be an error to interpret the lifting of the moratorium on logging to mean the opening up of an era of free-willing enterprises in timber as it is presently observed.  The observation on the ground is that there is a huge quantity of timber that has been already logged illegally and accumulated on the ground, awaiting evacuation.  The lifting of the moratorium cannot by any means be interpreted to mean the creation of a vacuum.  Before the moratorium was pronounced, there were already in existence, approved procedures and guidelines by the Forestry Commission on sustainable logging approaches vide: the Forestry Commission Law 2011, and Single tree permit guideline.

“The lifting of the moratorium therefore means the empowerment of the processes and structures which had always been in operation before the pronouncement of the moratorium. Thus, the owners of all the timber on ground must of necessity produce evidence of compliance with extant processes as have already been established by the Forestry Commission and cited here above”.

In this regards, they stated that “the legal premise for addressing violations within the forest estates of Cross River State and the Cross River National Park, have been clearly worked out and entrenched in the Forestry Commission Act of 2011 as well as the National Park Service Act CAP N64, laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The prevalent failure in enforcing the law as and when due is not by reason of lack, or deficiency in the legal premise.  On the contrary, it is by reason of the lack of political will to enforce laws that have already been established, they.

“The Civil Society organisations should engage and generate sufficient activities aimed at encouraging the Forestry Commission and the National Park Service; and all other associated government agencies to enforce the laws which are already sufficient and adequate.  The procedures for compounding offenses and prosecution have been established under the extant laws.  The role of the civil society organisations extends only to the point of seeking a restraining and/or Mandamus Order from the court of law to compel the government authorities and agencies to prosecute persons or institutions that conduct business in violation of the laws”.

Over the last several years, the government of  Cross River State has been creating anti-Deforestation Taskforces acting from the office of the governor.  It is significant to observe that these taskforces actually do not possess the depth and extent given to the Forestry Commission under the Forestry Commission Law 2011. 

The meeting declared that “in view of the very lavish provisions made within the Forestry Commission law and the National Park Service Act, in their favour, these institutions should very urgently workout frameworks and modalities for operating transparently, with firmness and without compromise within the sector”.

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